The booklet quotes Pierre Monteux, the conductor of the first performance
of The Rite of Spring
, as stating “that to hear the work
without its orchestral colour is to lose one of its main attractions.”
In fact, if I recall correctly, Monteux was describing - in his sleeve
notes for his LP recording of the work for RCA - how Stravinsky had
originally played the work at the piano for Diaghilev and himself,
and that as the demonstration had continued he had become more and
more convinced that Stravinsky was mad. If the great conductor felt
that way about The Rite of Spring
shorn of its instrumental
colour, surely that must mean that for modern listeners any attempt
to experience the work in the same way is doomed to failure.
Well, not entirely. We now know, as Monteux did not at that time,
how The Rite
sounds with a full orchestra playing it; and we
can supply from our own memories of the score the colour that a piano
reduction fails to supply. In addition, there are advantages to hearing
the work in this way. The percussive piano provides a rhythmic drive
that the full orchestra blunts. We can hear details of the counterpoint
which can be smothered under the layers of instrumental colour. For
this reason it is valuable - on occasion - to hear Stravinsky’s
ballet unadorned. The two players here do a good job, giving us detail
and force by turns.
In the same way it is easy to assume that the Rapsodie espagnole
correctly so spelled in the booklet notes, but mis-spelt as
in the track-listings - must inevitably suffer without
Ravel’s masterly application of orchestral colour. In fact the
piano version is the original of the score, composed the year before
his own orchestration. Ravel composed a great many of his works in
this way, and although we are generally more familiar with La Valse
Le tombeau de Couperin
, Ma Mère l’Oie
the Pavane pour une infante défunte
in their orchestral
form, all were originally written for and performed on the piano.
Ravel in fact regarded the two versions as complementary. Again, with
the instrumental coloration in mind, we can appreciate his scores
played on the piano as having validity in their own right, supplying
from our memories the orchestral clothing as appropriate.
The Hindemith Sonata
on the other hand exists only in the version
for piano (four hands), and is a real rarity in the catalogues even
in this form. I can find only one other recording currently available.
It’s part of a Nimbus set of all Hindemith’s piano music
played by Bernard Roberts and David Strong. The duo here are rather
more leisurely than Roberts and Strong in the slow introduction to
the final movement. Otherwise there is little reason to prefer one
version over the other.
The recorded sound is present and lively, with a pleasant sense of
resonance. If the coupling of these three works is attractive, there
is no reason to hesitate. There is the additional attraction of Odradek’s
royalties policy, which means that once pressing and distribution
costs have been covered all profits go the artists themselves.
Paul Corfield Godfrey
Masterwork Index: Rite